Councillors agree not to fight developer’s housing appeal

The Riversfield site at Little Paxton

The Riversfield site at Little Paxton - Credit: Archant

Huntingdonshire District Council would have faced a bill costing “hundreds of thousands” of pounds of taxpayers’ money if it had contested an appeal over a controversial bid to build 199 houses on a site in Little Paxton, councillors have heard.

The authority’s development management committee reluctantly dropped plans to contest an appeal by developers over the site, which included business use, at Riversfield, off the Great North Road.

Members had twice previously rejected the plan, against the advice of the council’s own officers, but had since taken legal advice from a barrister who said the council would almost certainly lose an appeal - to be heard over six days - and face a “substantial” costs award to the developers.

The meeting heard that a similar case in Cambridge four years ago had cost the council there about £250,000.

Councillor Jason Ablewhite, who had previously opposed the plan, said: “This is my 19th year in local government and I don’t think there has been a development I have felt so passionate about and at the same time so helpless about, having taken professional and legal advice at the highest level.”

He and Councillor Sarah Conboy, who had also opposed the plan, had drawn up a report after the council turned the development down for a second time, recommending that the authority would not now contest an appeal by the developers.

The move was approved by the council’s development management panel despite Councillor Nik Johnson urging them to fight on - and even offering to represent the council at the appeal.

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The council originally rejected the scheme on the grounds that it would lead to a loss of employment land - the site had permission for business use - and because of its impact on education and roads. There was also concern about the safety of the nearby A1 junction.

Cllr Ablewhite had told the committee that contesting a six-day appeal which they were likely to lose would be “hugely expensive” with a bill likely to run into “hundreds of thousands of pounds”.

He said: “The fact that the barrister’s legal opinion that the grounds that we put forward meant we would not be enough to defend this leaves me with a very, very heavy heart.”

Cllr Conboy said: “I do wish we were not in this position. We genuinely believed we had just enough to contest this.”

Cllr Johnson told the meeting that the decision harmed the integrity of the committee.